iVerse Media started out in 2008 when founder Michael Murphey got the idea to publish his original comics digitally, and has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Today, iVerse offers its “Comics +” app, which features comics from Marvel Comics, IDW Publishing, Archie Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Ape Entertainment, and other independent publishers, as well as industry news.
We sat down with Murphey as part of our Digital Comics Month initiative to get the inside scoop on iVerse’s present and future plans!
TFAW.com: How long have you been distributing digital comics? When, and how, was your company founded?
Michael Murphey: iVerse was founded in July 2008. Our first comics were released on the iPhone in November of that year. The company really started as just a combination of my love for comics and the iPhone. At the time I was a full-time blogger and podcaster. I had a pretty decent-sized daily audience on my podcast in particular, and thought doing some comics on the iPhone would be fun. At first, I was just planning on doing some original comics, but after posting a video of our first comics app, I started hearing from publishers that afternoon wanting to know what the business model was and how they could participate.
From there things just started moving like crazy, and a few months later my developing partner and I had to bring in some help to keep up with demand. Before we knew it we were working with some of the best publishers in the business, and had half a dozen people working for iVerse. That number has doubled over the last year, and things have just been going amazingly well.
For a life-long comics geek like me it’s a dream come true, in many respects.
TFAW.com: What drew you to digital comics?
MM: I have been fascinated with digital comics since I read Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud in 2000 or so. I remember poring over that book and thinking how amazing this digital future could be. Scott has always been someone that I’ve admired, and I hope we see some of his more interesting concepts, like the infinite canvas, utilized in digital comics soon. There is so much that could be done there.
TFAW.com: What did you think when you first heard about the possibility of reading comics in a digital format?
MM: I’m sure “Star Trek” is the first thing that popped into my head. I was immediately fascinated with the possibilities of what that could be and how it could work.
TFAW.com: Who is buying your digital comics? Is it the usual comics audience, or do you think you’re reaching a more nontraditional demographic?
MM: I think that depends largely on the app. Right now the people making regular purchases in Comics + are definitely the traditional comic audience for the most part. In the case of Archie and Pocket God, though, it’s clear that we’re reaching a new readers. Pocket God in particular is a completely new demographic because it’s largely fans of the iPhone game. Many of those readers are trying comics for the very first time. Thankfully, Ape Entertainment produced a fantastic book that is on par with anything on the shelves today. So I think, in that case, they’re getting a great entry into the comics world, and we’ve seen plenty of feedback to know that we’re sparking interest in the next generation with that app.
With brands like Archie and Transformers and the like, I think we’re reaching out beyond the traditional audience as well. Archie has multi-generational appeal and is an absolute powerhouse digitally. IDW’s franchises reach well beyond traditional comics fans into “mainstream” areas like TV and film, and we’ve seen evidence that many of those people are completely new to comics. We received tons of emails when Star Trek: Countdown came out that people were trying comics for the first time with that book. It was really exciting.
TFAW.com: Do you currently offer day and date comics? Will you offer more of those in the future?
MM: We do, and we will offer more as the publishers want to do that, but I think day and date is an issue with specific appeal to the traditional comic book audience, and the best way to do that, and support it, is to do it in a way that benefits everyone in the industry. Casual digital readers aren’t clamoring for day and date releases. Digital is very much the newsstand of the 21st century, and I think it should be treated that way.
TFAW.com: Currently, customers are still buying standalone issues. Are you planning to offer digital “graphic novels”?
MM: We do offer some digital graphic novel collections. We’ll continue to do that where it’s appropriate, but on some older devices (as an original iPhone is now so old Apple doesn’t even support it anymore) larger files can be a problem, so we want to make sure we’re keeping maximum compatibility, while we consider customer demand. So if the demand gets higher, and as more and more of those older devices get phased out, we’ll do even more of that.
TFAW.com: How have iPhone-sized versus iPad-sized digital comics fared?
MM: Both have done exceptionally well for us. I think the iPad feels more natural to a traditional comic reader, but with our iPhone formatting there isn’t a lot of camera movement or sliding around, and users, especially young readers, seem to enjoy reading on the iPhone as much as they would anywhere else.
TFAW.com: How do you feel publishers have responded to the digital comics format? Have there been any changes in the way they produce comics that you’ve seen?
MM: No, not yet. I think most publishers look at it as a secondary endeavor right now, and rightfully so. Very few publishers are doing as well as someone like Archie is in this space right now. Plus, they do have print to consider, no matter what they’re doing. Most publishers, even if they create for digital first, are going to want eventually print the material, and as long as that is the case, I believe it will be presented in the traditional way.
Now when creators can start making enough money off of digital-only comics to think about them in more abstract ways, we may see some really interesting products show up.
TFAW.com: What have been some of the major challenges of bringing comics into the digital age?
MM: The ever-changing technology has been a constant challenge, and will continue to be throughout the digital age and beyond.
TFAW.com: What do you think of the piracy issue that comes along with digital distribution?
MM: Piracy hasn’t been a very big issue for us over the last few years. We have some pretty strong protection in place, and while nothing is ever 100% pirate proof, I believe very strongly that there is an audience out there right now that is pirating because they can’t get the material how they want it, and when they want it. When they can, they will stop. There are others, of course, who will download everything they can illegally just to do it. Those people aren’t customers. If they weren’t going to actually buy [insert name of awesome comic here] then they were never a customer to begin with.
I can understand the concerns about it, and it is certainly something everyone has to stay on top of, but at the end of the day–as an example–the most torrented movie of last year was Avatar . . . and that movie made a few bucks.
TFAW.com: What are your plans for future development?
MM: The answer to that is a novel by itself, but one of our primary focuses for 2011 is cross-platform options, as well as doing some innovative things with our current apps that we’re not seeing anywhere else right now. I’d love to go into it more right now, but the time isn’t quite right just yet.
TFAW.com: If one of your digital comics readers wanted to get the hard copy after they read the digital comic, how do you help them find out where to get a copy?
MM: The Diamond Comic Shop Locator Application is fully integrated into every one of our comic store applications and is also available as its own standalone app from iVerse. We have plans to do much more than that in 2011, though. You’ll be hearing more about that in the very near future.
TFAW.com: What do you think digital comics will mean for traditional retailers in the upcoming years?
MM: I honestly believe they will mean opportunity more than anything else.
TFAW.com: Do you think digital comics spell the end of floppies?
MM: I do think there is a future where not all floppies are printed, but I don’t think the “end” is near for floppies as a format right now. I can easily see there being some lower-selling titles that appeal to a smaller audience existing digitally at first, then as a trade, but I fully expect to go into a comic book shop and purchase a print copy of Action Comics #1000 when that day comes.
TFAW.com: Do you honestly think digital stores and the traditional direct market can both continue to thrive?
MM: Oh yes. If I didn’t, I never would have started this company. This is one of those subjects I could debate for hours. The newsstand and the direct market managed to co-exist together for a long time, and digital and print aren’t that much different. There are many new opportunities in the digital age to bring value into the community of the comic book store . . . but there has to be some motivating factors for retailers to get excited, and for customers to want to participate–we think we have solutions to those problems, and we’ll be getting more into that early this year.
TFAW.com: Do you have any retailer incentives or plans to include traditional retailers in your digital comics program?
We want to thank Michael Murphey for the excellent interview! Make sure to come back Wednesday, January 19 for our Digital Comics Month interview with IDW Publishing.
Have you downloaded the iVerse app? What’s your experience been like? Post your comments below!